By Chinonye Anyatonwu
The Nigerian Ports Authority would soon begin a strict assessment and compliance audit for barge operations in the country that may drastically prune the number of operators. This is with a view to enhancing quality and safety standards in their operations, according to the Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko.
Briefing newsmen in Lagos at the weekend on his stewardship of eight months in acting capacity and three months as substantive MD as well as his future plans, Bello-Koko frowned at what he described as the recklessness and total lack of standards by some barge operators and swore that the NPA would soon embark on a strict audit of their processes, warning that many of them would not like the outcome.
He disclosed that authority has developed a Standards Operating Procedure SOP for the barges just as it did for the trucks under the electronic call up system for truck called ‘eto’, and would ensure that all the barge operators complied with these procedures to ensure safety on the nation’s waters, especially on the channels.
According to him, the aim of this strict audit is to prune the number by screening out quacks among them and enthrone a regime of safe and efficient operation. He also foreclosed the licensing of new barge operators, saying that it is not about the number or quantity but quality service delivery, which would also promote safety and security on the nation’s waters.
It was also gathered that the NPA is concluding plans to introduce a tariff regime for the barge operators, many of which have operated for over one year. It is believed that the Federal Government should earn some revenue through the activities of the barge operators since NPA, which represents the government also expends public funds in monitoring and regulating their activities.
Bello-Koko said: “There are various shapes and sizes of barges on Nigeria’s waters, we have created an SOP for them and we have called them to a meeting, we will give them some concessions but government must earn some revenue from their activities.
“Most of the barges do not have communication systems, many are not branded so when they commit an offence, you cannot trace them because they do not even have the Automatic Information System AIS, or whatever they call it, many of their pilots behave as if they are driving vehicles on the road.
“Every time you wake up, you hear the vessels horning, they are not telling us good bye, they are telling someone to get off the channels because some of these rickety barges would also go and block the vessel channels. We have had a situation whereby a vessel was forced to anchor at the middle of a channel because a barge was blocking her.
“All these have to stop or we start seizing them, you would likely hear some complaints soon and that is why I am bringing the issues to your attention. We will be firm and if we need to be brutal, we will be brutal because any day a vessel sinks in the middle of a channel, you will know that we are done for as a shipping nation. Somebody will keep blackmailing you because of his business interest.
“We will stop those barges from operating and they must also not operate at night. Some weeks ago, a barge sneaked out to go and operate at night and it bruised a vessel that was offloading liquid cargo, imagine what would have happened if the tanker vessel went up in flames, the entire port would have been engulfed.
“When you go to Kirikiri area of Apapa, you will see the barges double banking; in fact, triple banking if there is anything like that, you cannot do that in a seaport environment. So very soon, they will complain to you media men but if you hear such complaints, please call us and we will tell you the truth because we will not stop you from doing your work.”
On whether the NPA was planning to issue new licenses, he noted that there was no plan for that for now, adding that those that fail to meet the minimum standard requirements would be weeded out while those that meet the requirements would be given additional requirements just to ensure they maintain operational standards under the SOP.
“It is not the number that matters but the quality. You have seen videos of containers falling off the barges and sometimes you see the barges sinking, we will not allow all these to continue, in the final analysis, it is not the number of barges but the quality of service they render. We will allow those that meet our requirements to have the licenses but no plans for a new licensing regime, at least for now”, the MD also assured.
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